New York City FC: Can the team finish first in the Eastern Conference?

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Gudmundur Thorarinsson #20 of New York City and teammates celebrate the third goal of the match in the home opener match at Yankee Stadium on April 24, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Gudmundur Thorarinsson #20 of New York City and teammates celebrate the third goal of the match in the home opener match at Yankee Stadium on April 24, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images) /

New York City FC can finish first in the Eastern Conference table, but then again, they can also not

After four games this season, New York City FC have found themselves at the top of the Eastern Conference table.  They have seven points, nine goals, and two clean sheets thus far, and players like Valentín Castellanos and Maxime Chanot are playing some of their best football.  It is a delightful surprise they are currently playing well, and it is a relieving change that 2021 did not start off slowly like in 2019 and 2020.

Of course, the season is long, and NYCFC could find themselves in the middle of the table as it was predicted before the start of the season.  Teams struggling right now, like the Philadelphia Union, could recreate and regain their form from the previous year.  In other words, no one can truly predict how the 2021 Major League Soccer season will end.

With that said, NYCFC have proved they have the makings to be a powerful side in 2021.  Sure, they obviously need to make a few big signings during the summer transfer window.  But the way the team has played, even in satisfactory performances, illuminates their ability to get results.  Hence, there are many reasons why they can top the Eastern Conference at the end of the regular season.  Yet, there are also reasons why they cannot win, and could fall somewhere mid-table.

Why NYCFC can finish first

One major reason why New York City FC can finish first in the Eastern Conference at the end of the regular season is the team’s chemistry.  When watching matches, the players on the pitch seem to have this connection that was not apparent in previous seasons.  Their ability to communicate what they want to one another is clear, and was especially noticeable during the defensive effort in the game against Orlando City SC.

Also, players are genuinely happy when a teammate scores or does well.  Many goals were celebrated together, and those celebrations look to be authentically joyful.  Notably, when Castellanos scored the penalty to tie the game in Orlando, the players on the pitch ran to those warming up on the sidelines to celebrate.  This illuminates NYCFC’s game is a team game, and they work together to accomplish their goal of winning.

Plus, Captain Sean Johnson said there is a change within the team.  He told Newsday, “I think there’s a hunger in this group now that I haven’t seen in a very long time.”  This hunger is clearly driving the Pigeons to play their best on the pitch and get the results.

More importantly, NYCFC is scoring.  In 2020, one of the biggest issues was the lack of scoring and the droughts that occurred.  Again, the team has nine goals, and has scored in all four matches.  Castellanos has continued his scoring ways from the end of the last season, and Jesús Medina has shocked everyone with his goal scoring form.  The two players combine for seven of the goals, Gudmundur Thórarinsson has one, and the ninth goal is an own goal from the FC Cincinnati game.  Hopefully, as the season goes on, more players will find the scoresheet.  Nonetheless, having two forwards in goal scoring form is a vital boost in the Pigeons’ fight to prove doubters wrong.  If they can continue to score, then the team will be able to compete for the top of the table of the Eastern Conference.

Furthermore, NYCFC are off to a faster start than usual.  As long as they continue to play well and score, then they should compete for the top spot.  Additionally, the club has the summer transfer window, and the Designated Player spots, to bring in talented players that can put them over the top.  So, between the talent NYCFC has now, and the possibility of more talent arriving this summer, the team can fight and win the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Why NYCFC cannot finish first

Many would argue that it is too early to tell whether New York City FC can claim the top spot in the Eastern Conference.  Some fans would still call the current team average at best, and unreliable to perform well for a full season.  So, one major reason NYCFC cannot win the regular season Eastern Conference title is because they will likely face a scoring drought.

In the past few season, the team has gone through long stretches where they either could not score, or scored too few goals.  This was evident throughout a majority of the 2020 season, and even when the club started to win, the players still struggled at times with scoring.  Right now, the majority of goals are coming from Medina and Castellanos.  Therefore, what happens if no one else contributes, and both players eventually find themselves out of goal scoring form?  This would lead to the drought that plagues the Pigeons often, and such a drought would make it difficult to win games.

In addition, it is extremely difficult for a team to perform strongly for a full season, especially when it is obvious more talented players are needed.  Unless a team can properly rotate their Starting XI, then exhaustion and injuries to starting players can lead to losses.  There is also the issue of the summer, when some players will be away on international duty.  Head coach Ronny Deila has some gifted players on the bench, but obviously needs reinforcements.  As a result, NYCFC cannot compete for 34 regular season games without the guarantee of having a strong rotation.

In the end, the likelihood of scoring droughts, and the issue of rotation, will be why NYCFC cannot finish at the top of the Eastern Conference.  Although, not many thought the current team would be 2-1-1 in their first four games.  So far, this team has proved they can compete with strong sides like Orlando and Philadelphia.  Anything can happen, and maybe, just maybe, fans and critics alike have underestimated the team as it is right now.  Maybe, just maybe, everyone will be proved wrong, and the Pigeons will clinch the regular season Eastern Conference title with flying colors.